EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 28, 2012

Editorial: Lawmakers seek more cash to fund their free spending

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — For those who were busy around the Thanksgiving holiday, it’s worth noting that Massachusetts officials are once again talking about raising taxes as we head into the new year.

First, there was the news that the Patrick administration may seek to increase the gas tax as a way of gathering “new revenue” — that is, more of your money — to spend on the state’s transportation system, as last year’s reforms, which included steep fare hikes for public transportation, did not solve its deficit or infrastructure woes.

And this week, The Boston Globe reported that the economic recovery may have leveled off here in Massachusetts, leading some to predict a push for a tax hike to stave off budget cuts.

While there is room for discussion of new revenues in any debate over future state spending — especially when it comes to transportation infrastructure — we disagree with those officials who say there is little more to be gained from government reforms.

One needs only look to the other piece of bad news that surfaced around the holiday: Sheila Burgess, the state highway safety director, had a driving record that would make a teenager blush, with 34 incidents, including seven accidents, four speeding violations and two failures to stop for a police officer. Burgess, a former Democratic fundraiser, had no relevant experience when she has hired for the $87,000-a-year job in 2007.

How can voters trust lawmakers who say more tax money is needed while their friends are stashed on the state payroll?

Burgess was hired in 2007 after a recommendation from Congressman James McGovern, D-Worcester. She was dropped into the highway safety job despite having no experience in transportation or public safety

Burgess, who has been out of work since her last accident in August, has since resigned, effective Dec. 31. Voters should remember her story the next time their legislators talk about budget cuts and the limits of reform.

Those legislators cannot even control their own free-spending ways in a struggling economy.

The slowing economic recovery in Massachusetts has left state revenues lagging $256 million behind budget. The looming shortfall has scuttled what was supposed to be an automatic income tax deduction. Gov. Deval Patrick has instituted a hiring freeze and killed a planned 2-percent raise for many of the state’s human services workers.

So why is Speaker Robert DeLeo handing out raises to House employees, and why is Senate President Therese Murray giving a similar 3-percent bump to some members of her immediate staff?

We understand that a 3-percent raise isn’t a huge boost for House staffers, who haven’t had a raise in four years. Many private sector workers, however, have gone even longer without an increase, and the state’s human service workers are rightly upset that they have to forgo their more modest raise while those cloistered in the Statehouse get taken care of first.

It’s not just the Legislature — Patrick and Auditor Suzanne Bump have also handed out raises to staffers during the shaky recovery.

The disconnect between Beacon Hill and the rest of the state continues to amaze us.

And these same Massachusetts lawmakers are beginning to talk about a need to raise taxes? Taxpayers should tell them to forget it.

A tax hike now, given legislators’ own wayward behavior, shouldn’t stand a chance.